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Summer program for visually impaired awakens the senses

Cici's Pizza visit PS
Participants of SAISD's summer camp for the visually impaired
put pepperoni
on a pizza during a field trip to Cici's Pizza designed
to awaken their senses.

By SAISD Communications

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A group of San Antonio ISD students gathered in the kitchen of the Cici’s Pizza on Austin Highway on Tuesday for a personal tutorial on the pizza chain’s pie-making process. The business graciously opened its doors before hours for a visit that awakened the students’ senses, from the texture of the pepperoni to the aromatic smell as the pizza inched through the conveyor oven.

Senses are crucial for this group of students: They are participants in the District’s annual summer camp for the visually impaired, which serves elementary- and middle school-age students who have varying degrees of visual loss. The camp is being held at Wilson Elementary School and runs through Friday.

Cheyenne, who will be in the 8th grade next year, is a camp regular and enjoyed the day’s field trip and the knowledge she picked up.

“It’s fun because this way I know how to make pizza from scratch at home,” she said.

Learning by experiencing

For the past two weeks, Cheyenne and 10 other classmates have engaged in multi-sensory activities designed to promote independence and encourage creativity – and, above all, that are fun.

Students learn skills that are critical to their everyday lives, such as traveling independently or making simple snacks or meals. But the camp also encourages creative learning and includes good old-fashioned academics. Students spend time outdoors for activities and field trips; strengthen academics through research and lessons; create art through a variety of activities and build their tech-savviness by using iPads and laptops that have been modified with assistive software to meet their individual needs.

“We have this camp to enrich students’ understanding of community and academics through hands-on, experiential learning, combined with the technology and writing about their experiences,” said Vicki Coronado, a veteran teacher of the visually impaired (VI) and one of two VI teachers running the camp.

Stimulating the senses

An outdoor garden at Wilson made the perfect exploration destination for the students last week. They ran their hands through the soil to feel the texture. They smelled onions, rosemary and zinnias, objects they researched online.

All the students, regardless of the degree of their visual impairment, have access to and use the same technology as other SAISD students. Some increase the font size or change the color of the background to better see. Others use speech software to guide them. Some students may require additional assistive technology to access the curriculum, and they receive instruction on this throughout the school year.

“We try to include (technology) with the students because we want them to explore and use the options that are available for them to be successful in the classroom," said Laura Purchis, also a veteran teacher of the visually impaired (VI) and the other camp teacher.

canvas art presentation Terynay PSIn addition, art is a significant part of the camp, with students exploring a variety of textures and materials and working with teachers to bring their artistic vision to fruition. On Wednesday, students presented to their campmates detailed and colorful canvas art that they had completed.

Terynay (pictured at right), an incoming 8th-grader, proudly displayed her work, which included a Spurs emblem she had drawn.

“That’s me meeting the Spurs,” she said, pointing to smiling figures.

Lobster, pizza and lots of learning

During a visit to Central Market last week, the students explored the texture and smell of fruits, vegetables and cheese and had the chance to touch a live lobster.

“The lobster kind of felt slimy,” recalled Adriana, a rising 3rd-grader.

In addition to stimulating the students’ senses, the trip also provided a learning opportunity that required the expertise of Susana Milewich, the District’s orientation and mobility specialist. She helps students orient themselves in space and teaches them how to travel safely, independently and gracefully.

Milewich works with students both at SAISD campuses and in a variety of community locations throughout the school year, teaching them how to get around in public, including how to use VIA’s paratransit service, the regular VIA city bus system and taxicabs. 

“The idea is to encourage the visually impaired students to be the best independent travelers they can be, whether in regard to traveling on school campuses, in outdoor residential areas or in indoor business areas, like H-E-B,” Milewich said. “This includes having visually impaired students learning to ask good questions to get good, helpful information and assistance when needed.”

Central Market visit PS
Students touch a live lobster during a visit to Central Market.

The students hopped on an SAISD bus on Tuesday, when they took the field trip to Cici’s Pizza. The trip became a learning tool before students ever stepped foot in the eatery, though. Coronado and Purchis used the upcoming trip and pizza as the focus of a lesson about fractions and percentages, students learned fun facts about pizza and they participated in an art activity to add to the scrapbooks they are keeping.

Adrian, an incoming 7th-grader, said he liked the freshly cooked pizza that he helped top and the friendly Cici’s staff, but, his favorite part of the trip appealed to his sense of taste: Eating the pizza.

Overall, he described his summer experiences with the camp for the visually impaired as amazing. Most students, he said, would want to sit back and take it easy during the summer.

“Usually, if it’s school, you think ‘Oh man, it’s going to be boring,’” he added. “But they teach you everyday things you need to know.”

For more information about SAISD’s program for visually impaired students, please contact the Department of Special Education Services at (210) 225-2406.

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